Lost Girl's London Top 10 (or 'Dear everyone I met whilst I was travelling')

Dear everyone I met whilst I was travelling,

Oh my god how are you?! It’s been too long! How’s the cat/dog/sibling? And your home town/city/village/castle/beach hut how’s that? I bet the weather is glorious/pleasant/ mundane/terrible/Scottish .

I probably tried to convince quite a few of you that London isn’t that expensive. So I am using my ten years of London knowledge and putting my blog where my mouth is. Here is my top 10 of cheap or even FREE things to do in London. I’ve included some general advice on saving in the city at the bottom.

1. Walk along Southbank.

Tower Bridge.jpg

This will be in every guide book, but for good reason. You can tick of the majority of London sights just by walking up this stretch of the Thames. I’m going to suggest starting at Tower Bridge, Have a look at the Tower of London, go in if you’re feeling flush, walk across our most iconic bridge (Tower Bridge) and then head down to the south side of the river. Turn right and head along the river.

You’ll pass London Bridge where you can take a de-tour through Borough Market. Continuing along the river you’ll pass Shakespeare’s Globe, the Tate Modern (free entry), see St Paul’s from across the river, pass the National Theatre and walk along vibrant, often decorated river side towards the Houses of Parliament (and Big Ben). You don’t need to go much further than the London Eye (don’t bother going on that).

I would actually recommend ending your walk just before the Eye for an al fresco Pimms at the Udderbelly (the big upside down purple cow theatre that appears every summer) or the Southbank Centre’s balcony (the pimms will be pricey but pleasant).

2. Swim in the ponds at Hampstead Heath

Kenwood Ladies Pond.jpg

This might be my favourite thing in London. The Heath is probably the greatest of London’s parks and the swimming ponds at Hampstead Heath and Kenwood are great. The Ladies Pond (for ladies) is the nicest by all accounts, but there is a Mixed Pond and a Men’s Pond too. Be warned the Mixed Pond is a completely different part of the park to the other two. It costs just £2 for a swim.

The ponds are outdoors and there aren’t lockers, so don’t take anything you can’t afford to lose. There are life guards though. The ponds are very deep, the water temperature ranges from refreshing to hypothermia inducing, so are best enjoyed in the summer. They don’t let non-members swim in the winter because you’ll probably die. The ponds can get crowded on summer weekends, but if you’re in London, on a sunny weekday, definitely head to the Heath for a walk and a swim.

Also, it’s a pond, there will be ducks and other wildlife in there with you.

3. Lunch on Brick Lane

Arguably, London has the best food in the world. We have EVERYTHING, and it’s generally made by immigrants, or their offspring, so it’s authentic and delicious. My favourite food is curry so I had to include Brick Lane in my top 10.

It’s cheaper to eat out in London for lunch than dinner and Brick Lane is no exception. London’s Curry Mile has millions, if not billions, of curry houses all trying to out bid each other. Most offer lunch or early afternoon deals too, I’ve eaten there a few times and it’s always been good. Maybe check tripadvisor before committing to a curry house though.

There’s loads to do around Brick Lane, Spitalfields Market has something on everyday, Brick Lane itself has an impressive market every Sunday. And Brick Lane is the gateway to East London, the land of the Hipster. You can easily walk to Shoreditch, the most pretentious place on the planet, just don’t buy anything there. Especially not spirits. I’ve accidentally spent £10 on a rum and coke there, twice, and I’m still annoyed about it.


4. Get some cheap theatre tickets

Globe.jpg

It’s pretty easy to get cheap theatre tickets. My beautiful former workplace Shakespeare’s Globe does £5 tickets for Groundlings (that’s standing, open air). If you go to the Globe take layers, you cool down fast standing still outside for a couple of hours. Also go for the lean - try and nab a space on the wall around the edge of the pit or lean on the front of the stage.

Other places to get cheap tickets include the National Theatre which does £15 Travelex tickets. There are discount TKTS huts for West End Theatre which can do good deals. Or, if you’re a young one, there are loads of deals for people under the age of 25. Including shows by the aforementioned National, Royal Shakespeare Company, the Barbican and more.

5. Picnic in Regent’s Park

The second of London’s parks to get a mention. Regent’s Park is lovely. Weather allowing, my suggestion would be to take a picnic with you and hang out there on a summer evening, it’s what lots of Londoners do. It’s especially nice to sit near the lake. There are Sainsbury’s near the park, one is very close to Euston Square Station, but you might get more choice if you shop near your accommodation. There are toilets, they are free, there will be a queue. And you’re allowed to drink outdoors here, so you can leave your brown bags at home!

6. Walk Regent's canal, Little Venice to Camden Lock.

Camden Lock.jpg

Another freebie. Little Venice in central London is a lively hub of houseboats, cafes and even a floating art gallery. You can walk from here along the canal all the way to Camden Lock (click the link for free downloadable maps). You’ll pass Regent’s park and cut through London Zoo. The walk takes around an hour and Camden is a great place to finish. It has a market and food market and pubs and Amy Winehouse’s favourite pub The Hawley Arms, also lots of live music and roughly 100,000 tourists. Getting something from the food market and a can of beer from the shop and then sitting on the canal-side is a good way to enjoy Camden for relatively cheap.

7. Free museums and Art Galleries

Pretty much all the big museums and galleries in London are free. The Natural History Museum is my favourite because it has dinosaurs. But there’s just loads. The V&A, which is dedicated to the history of art, design and fashion, is also brilliant. I mentioned the Tate Modern above which sometimes has interactive installations. There’s the British Museum, the Science Museum, the National Gallery… The Imperial War Museum is another favourite of mine, it’s a bit out of the way but presents the modern history of war in the UK in a very engaging way. Here’s a list of even more free museums and galleries.

Don’t try and buy food in or around the museums. It will be expensive and will probably be a bit rubbish. But if you take a picnic most have lovely outside areas where you can sit and eat.

8. Take the Thames Clipper to Greenwich,

The Thames Clipper is one of the more expensive things on my list. You can get on at the London Eye, Embankment or up at London Bridge and getting to Greenwich will cost you £7.30 if you use contactless payment. It’s still a much cheaper way to sail up the Thames than a boat tour. Normal Londoners use it to commute. And, AND, they have a bar on board?! So much better than the tube.

When you get to beautiful Greenwich you will find an antiques market, a Maritime Museum, and another lovely park. Definitely head up the hill in Greenwich Park to find the Greenwich Observatory and the Meridian Line. The GMT Line is, in the words of celebrated British Documentary maker Philomena Cunk, ‘…where time comes from’. You should probably watch her 4 minute film on Greenwich Observatory before you go yourself, so you can fully appreciate your visit.

9. Do the Parkland Walk

Once upon a time there was a railway line that ran from Finsbury Park to Alexander Palace. Then it shut down. Then they turned the old railway into a long path/park and it was brilliant.

It’s the third and final walk of my list and involves parks four, five and six… Start at Finsbury Park, walk though the park and get yourself onto the Parkland walk. Here’s a very useful map. Follow the track to Highgate. At Highgate you have to come off the trail, so could use the opportunity to have a pint at one of my favourite pubs The Boogaloo. You then need to head through Highgate Woods, another of my favourite places, before picking up the track again. The Highgate to Alexandra Palace stretch has some excellent views. Then you’re into Alexandra Palace park (known locally as Ally Pally). Alexandra Palace itself is a beautiful building, it has epic views and a bar that somehow has no atmosphere at all. There’s also a Theatre and Ice Skating rink hidden in there. It’s easy to get back to Finsbury Park, the W7 bus goes from near where you will have come into Ally Pally Park.

10. Find the Freebies

There are SO MANY free events that happen in London. I’ve been to see giant fire puppets, Jazz Festivals and a flotilla of tall boats amongst other things.As with many cities, the place to start your search for free events is Time Out. The Londonist also lists some interesting stuff. Londoners are pretty good at finding the freebies so expect events to be busy. Maybe take food and drink to avoid long queues and pricey food huts.

And as promised here are some general money saving tips for the Big Smoke:

Tips for travel

Travel in London, and in the UK in general is a budget killer. Use the same contactless card on London transport and it will give you the cheapest deal possible. TFL is your friend. It will tell you the quickest way to get where you’re going. Buses are cheaper than trains. And if you’re going around central London, consider walking. It’s all closer together than it feels when you’re underground. You can easily walk from Buckingham Palace to Covent Garden for example.

Book any trains out of London as soon as you know you’re travelling, use National Rail enquiries which doesn’t have a booking fee. There are cheap ‘Advanced’ tickets that will get you to Brighton for a few quid and similar, but you’ll need to buy this around a month before you travel and make sure you get that specific train. For a long journey (London to Edinburgh for example) NEVER buy train tickets on the day of travel. it will bankrupt you.

The coach is a good option, London to Bristol for example takes the same amount of time on the coach and is a fraction of the cost. Check Megabus for really cheap intercity tickets. National Express is good and runs routes to major festivals and sports events. Also have a look at the new, very cheap, Sn-ap which uses premium coaches for routes mostly in the South West (hopefully that link will get you some money off).

Tips for accommodation

Couchsurfing is probably the easiest way to save money on a bed in London because you’re staying with someone, on their sofa, for free. It’ll also be a nice way to get to know some Londoners and see what their life is like (busy and angry?).

Are you already a house sitter? That’s something to look into if you want to come for a week or more and have your own space, although they do have a joining fee. Booking.com might help you get a little money off hostels or hotel rooms and if you’re a first time user that link will get you 10% off. AirBnB is okay although it will rip you off with cleaning fees.

Staying out of central London will save you money although your travel will be more expensive. If you stay in zone 6 (a long way out) your contactless card will cap the travel for the week at £35 (2019 price). Where ever you stay you’ll use transport, although if you stay somewhere like London Bridge you can walk to everything in Central London… Thinking about it don’t stay in zone 6 unless it’s free. Actually if you’re staying out of zone 1 (central) message me before you book, there’s lots of TERRIBLE PLACES in London.

Tips for food

I’ve mentioned above the lunch time/ early dinner deals. If you’re a foodie check out this list of soft openings, where new restaurants will road test their menus for less than they’d normally charge. Also have a look at my go-to Timeout for their list of cheap and cheerful fooderies. If you go to any chain, like Pizza Express, Bella Italia, Carluccio’s etc there will almost definitely be discount voucher you can use. Most are listed on vouchercloud.

If you’re self catering most of our supermarkets are much of a muchness. Aldi and Lidl are the cheapest and there’s a few about. Otherwise Tesco is good and Sainsburys is fine, the bigger the store the cheaper it will be.

Here ends my London Top 10. Let me know when you’re coming. I now live in Bristol, which is a couple of hours west of London (and BEAUTIFUL). I’d love to show you round my little corner of the West Country.

Safe travels and happy trails friend!

Helen x

Admin

If you think my writing is interesting why don’t you check out my first book ‘Afterlife’? It’s like a really long blog with chapters and a thrilling storyline…

Hey, and if you look to your right (and up, up, up) you can sign up to my mailing list…

Lost Girl's New Zealand tips (or 'Dear Liz')

Yis Liz!

I know you will have done loads of organising already for your honeymoon in NZ, because that is what you do, but I have written you all my tips anyway! You’re going to have SO MUCH FUN. I don’t mean to gush but I LOVE NEW ZEALAND WITH ALL MY HEART BECAUSE IT’S WONDERFUL!

Also this blog may be longer than my book… I’m putting it on my website so there’s going to be advice for solo travellers and what to do if you don’t have a car, hopefully you’ll find it helpful. Everything has a heading so you can skip to the bits you need.

Money

ATMs are plentiful, reliable and all charge a fee. Around $3. Pretty much everywhere takes credit card, but they don’t like giving cashback on foreign cards.

The New Zealand dollar is currently 1.8 to the pound. But you'll probably be going after Brexit right? In which case you can exchange some of the goods you scavenged from the broken, deserted high street for NZD. The good news is the weather starts getting really nice in NZ in our winter, and, as this is is after the harvest, your feudal overlord will probably grant you leave to travel.

Route

I did the following in 5 weeks:

NORTH ISLAND: Auckland (2 nights) - Rotorua (2 nights) - Napier (2 nights) - Wellington (3 nights)

FERRY!

SOUTH ISLAND: Picton (1 night) - Christchurch (3 nights) - Oamaru (Workaway - 5 nights) - Dunedin (2 nights) - Queenstown (3 nights) - Franz Josef (3 nights) - Westport (1 night) - Nelson (2 nights)

Milford Sound.jpg

FERRY! AGAIN!

NORTH ISLAND: Wellington (1 night) - National Park (2 nights) - Auckland (Daytrips - 4 nights)

I’ll go into each place in detail in their section, but, briefly, this worked really well and most places were excellent. Next time I’ll skip Westport (duuulllll), stay in chilled out Wanaka instead of hyper Queenstown and try and get to the Bay of Islands in the North Island.

Transport

You can do New Zealand without a car or booking a hugely expensive hop on hop off backpackers bus like Kiwi Experience or Stray. Intercity buses go almost everywhere, and, if you buy the FlexiPass it works out WAY cheaper than booking individual journeys. In five weeks I used 60 hours on intercity which would have cost $459 ($7.65 an hour) if I’d bought them all at once.

However, having a car does make things WAY easier. You can get to places without a tour, get to places where no tour goes, travel when it suits you and take way less time on the road because some of the buses take weird routes. If you want to rent a car you need to do it quite far in advance. Lots of people staying for a few months buy a car and then sell it at the end. There are Facebook groups where you can find people selling cars. Also a top tip from Bubbles (in Auckland) is to check out the car fair every Sunday morning at Ellerslie Racecourse. If you’re strapped for cash an air mattress in your car or in a tent is a cheap option - obviously as you’re honeymooning I' expect you’ll be 5 starring it, yis Liz?

There is the campervan option which I’m afraid I know very little about. You need to book these really far in advance too, some hostels will let you park outside and use their facilities.

BUT, for the non drivers, there are lots of travellers with spaces in their cars looking for company. I got my intercity pass, but jumped in a car whenever the opportunity arose. There's a Facebook group where you can post if you're after a lift. People also hitchhike a lot in NZ. I didn’t, but met lots of people who did and it worked well for them.

Accommodation

A quick note about accommodation, I’ve already mentioned the campervan and car/mattress/tent options, and whilst my blog will be about hostels, Airbnb is also a really good option for couples. You’ll get a cheaper private room and get to meet some locals. The added fees for Airbnb make it pricey for a solo traveller so I didn’t do it. People also Couchsurf in NZ, and the Couchsurf app is a good way to find travel buddies. Be warned some men offering their sofas seem to want to use the app a little like Tinder… Another option for people with a lot of time is to do a Workaway, free room and board for a few hours work and getting to experience everyday life in New Zealand. If you haven’t used Booking.com yet you can get £15 off a booking using this link.

SIM card

I didn't do a massive amount of research. I passed a shelf of SIMs and all but one of the Vodafone cards were gone so I decided they were probably the best. It's worked out pretty well though. The SIM cost a couple of dollars and then I got 1.25gb, 200mins and unlimited texts for $19 for a month.

iSites (Tourist information)

These wonderful tourist information centres are in pretty much every town. They'll help you book stuff and give advice on tours and hikes. If you go in and say something like 'I only have an evening, what would you suggest?' They'll shower you with maps and brochures.

Auckland

Beautiful Auckland. Auckland is a lot like Sydney in a lot of ways. It has a nice harbour area, you can get the ferry to brilliant places, it's got a healthy cultural and culinary scene, and outside the city there's some stunning nature.

I visited Auckland when I arrived and on my way out of New Zealand, but I’ve popped all my Auckland tips in this section.

Accommodation: I stayed at Ponsonby Backpackers. I'd recommend it for solo travellers for sure brew. It attracts a mix of backpackers and has a lovely homely vibe. Also Ponsonby is the posh bit of Auckland so there's loads of great bars, restaurants and vegan refill stores close by. Walking into town took about 20 mins, there are buses but I didn't use them.

Transport: the AT HOP card costs $10 and massively reduces the cost of journeys (a single without the card costs $3.50). After three or four journeys you'll have made your money back.

Transport to the airport: There is a Skybus that goes from the Sky Tower in the middle of the city or a Super Shuttle that will pick you up from your accommodation for $25.

Auckland Activities:

I was pretty lucky to have a couple of friends in Auckland. My pal Cathal drove us about half an hour out of the city to the gorgeous Bethel's beach for a walk (looked a bit rough for swimming). And my friend Bubbles hooked me up with tickets to the Popup Globe, which is a very fun way to spend an evening in Auckland.

Stony Ridge.jpg

Waiheke: A stunning island with vineyards and beaches. The ferry from Auckland Central (Pier 2) to Waiheke takes 40mins and is $40(NZD) return. You can buy your ferry ticket and hop on hop off bus pass together for $65, good if you want to see the whole island (buying the tickets separately adds $20). The local bus is great, it's also every 30 mins and a single is $3.50, less if you've got the AT HOP card. Loads of the vineyards are in walking distance of the ferry or a bus stop. Wine tastings are generally $10. A walk/bus DIY wine tour is a great, cheap way to see the Island.

Rangitoto: Rangitoto is an island 25 minutes away from Auckland. It's beautiful. Go if you like hiking, volcanos and lava, especially if you like hiking up a volcano over lava. It also has some nice beaches and great views of Auckland across its mangroves. Return ticket from Pier 4 (Fullers 360) cost $36. We got the 9.15 ferry over and visited a beach as well as the summit, then got the last ferry (3.30pm) back.

Day trip to the Coromandel: I booked a day trip from Auckland to the Coromandel penninsular with Kiwi Tours via bookme. It should have cost $250 but I got it for $150. Definitely check out bookme for some bargains! We visited the Hot water beach which was very crowded but very fun and Cathedral Cove, a truly stunning beach. The walk to the cove and back is a 30 minute hike each way, hills are involved, it’s a great place for a swim and a picnic.

You can drive to the Coromandel for the day from Auckland or there is a ferry that takes you to Coromandel town, BUT that's not in the same place as the beach and the cove, so you'd need to look into transport in that end. Apparently it's a nice place to stay for a couple of days. I could have certainly spent more time on those beaches than the tour allowed.

Auckland Food and Drink:

It's all about self catering in NZ so you don't bankrupt yourself, however Auckland is a great place to eat out. Especially if you end up staying in Ponsonby.

Orphans Kitchen: Really lovely restaurant in Ponsonby (118 Ponsonby Road) with fresh , local food. A bit on the pricey side with mains for around $30 but the food (eg. Line caught fish, mint and yoghurt dressing) was beautiful.

Deadshot: A speakeasy style cocktail bar where the cocktails cost $19 each and are made by the bartender based on what you like. Dangerously delicious. It's also on Ponsonby Road (number 45) and, in speakeasy fashion, doesn't have a sign.

Fokker Brothers: This is a cheap and cheerful bar in the harbour area with a good happy hour and excellent burgers. A good place for a drink after getting off the ferry.

Intercity bus Auckland to Rotorua- 4 hours

The intercity bus is generally basic with no toilet and no usb chargers. But they do have WiFi (which may or may not work) and stop every couple of hours.

Rotorua

Rotorua is incredible. The town has been built on geothermals and lots of businesses utilise them to provide heating. Whilst wandering through the park and along the lakefront you will casually pass steaming lakes and bubbling mud. FYI it also smells like rotten eggs.

Accommodation: I stayed at the Funky Green Voyager which is a very good hostel. It's small, clean, has comfy beds, a nice common area and a well stocked kitchen. You can also park camper vans here and enjoy the hostel. I got eaten alive here, probably by mosquitoes so make sure you use repellent! The hostel is on the outskirts of the main shopping area, but opposite a huge supermarket. FGV attracts a mix of travellers, I made friends easily here.

Food: I just self catered here. But they do have a row of restaurants near the Lakefront which looked nice.

Rotorua Activities:

Redwoods at night: I did the Redwoods treetop walk at night which was beautiful. The enormous trees are lit with lanterns and other beautiful lights. It cost $29 NZD and took about an hour. I wouldn't recommend trying to walk there or back from the town in the dark. I made friends with someone who had a car, but there are also citylink buses that run out there.

Tip: Go just before dusk for a free walk around the redwood forest and then pay for the treetop walk once it gets dark.

Artists palette.jpg

Wai-O-Taupo: The geothermal wonderland! At this point having a car would have been helpful, but I booked myself on a tour to there with Headfirst for $75. If you’re not on a tour park admission is $35, Funky Green has discount vouchers too.

The tour was great. We were taken to a huge geothermal lake and boiling mud pits before arriving for the daily eruption of the Lady Knox geyser at 10.15. The geyser was impressive but our tour group legged it before it had completely died so we didn't get stuck in the traffic of people moving from geyser to park.

You need quite a few adjectives to describe the geothermal park. I will initially go for stunning, surreal and steamy (and stinky). Definitely walk all three of the loops, it only takes an hour and a bit to do the whole thing and the bit furthest out looks like there should be dinosaurs wandering past. The ‘artists palette’ is the one you'll have seen on the internet or Instagram with yellow pools, green sections, the red shore, turquoise centre and so much steam blowing off it in all directions. There's loads to see there. It's great. Definitely go.

Rotorua Kuirau Park: Rotorua's park is lovely civic hub of green spaces and more geothermals. It has its own geothermal lake, which is just gorgeous as the ones at Wai-O-Taupo, and little communal thermal foot baths. Also it's free. It's a great place to wander or read your book.

Lakefront: Good for a stroll. I wandered down towards the water and found St Faiths Church, the military cemetery and the meeting house. The buildings look sort of alpine and the graveyard is fascinating. The whole area is on more geothermals. People have them in their gardens and someone had put a traffic cone over one #safetyfirst. I was also stalked by an extremely fluffy cat which is possibly the Lakefront welcoming committee. Say hi for me if you see him. Further along the shore there are seaplanes and a helicopter pad and another big green space.

Polynesian Spa: We spent an evening in the Polynesian Spa. This may be a bit dull on your own, but with a few friends it was fun. The adult pools cost $30 and the hostel gave us 10% off vouchers. We went at dusk which was lovely as the sun was just setting. It was a bit crowded at 7.30 on a Saturday night. There were a couple of big tour groups. But it did calm down a bit after dark.

Rotorua to Napier on Intercity- 4 hours

Had 30 minute stop in Taupo, which is enough time to have a quick look at the lake.

Napier

The Art Deco capital of the world.

Accommodation: I stayed at the Criterion Art Deco Backpackers. It has a big, but slightly grimy kitchen and social area with a TV lounge. Again it is easy to chat to people here. HOWEVER the room I was in had bed bugs and the room I got moved to had a terrible bed. They argued it ‘wasn’t their fault’ when I asked for my money back. Stay at your own risk.

Food: I self catered mostly but did have a halloumi wrap from the kebab place after the wine tour. I don't Australasia gets halloumi wraps, I haven't had a good one here yet.

Napier Activities:

Here's where Napier redeems itself. You can do a self guided Art Deco tour (buy a booklet from the i-site for $10) or, if you only have one day and you like wine you’re in one of the premier wine regions, you could do a wine tour?!

Hawkes Bay wine tour.jpg

Prinsys wine tour: I did a half day wine tour with Prinsys for $110. We visited four vineyards and got a cheese board. The tour was great. A highlight was trying to put a $50, $90 and $250 Syrah (Shiraz) wine in the right order. I got the expensive one right because I'm classy.

Napier to Wellington

I actually got a lift with my new pal Joe (from Dundee) and we stopped for a brilliant hike up Te Mata on the way. Highly recommend this walk.

As a passenger I felt it was my duty to provide snacks and entertainment. I introduced Joe to 'No Such Thing as a Fish' the greatest podcast in the world, 'Evil Genius' and we tried 'Last Podcast on the left' their long podcast on flat earth was interesting, but they are shouty Americans which gets a little wearing after a while.

Wellington

Wellington is brilliant. Lots of people don't seem to like it but there's loads of nature, culture and food in New Zealand's capital.

Accommodation: I stayed at my friends house, sorry. Everyone was talking about how lovely the Marion Hostel was though.

Wellington Activities:

Mount Victoria: is soooooo good and really steep for a something bang in the middle of town. The views are great. Go here. You can drive if you're feeling lazy.

Wellington.jpg

Botanic Garden: was lovely. Again super steep to get to the top, although you can take the cable car (common consensus is the cable car is a rubbish tourist attraction). It's a pretty standard Botanic Garden. Go if you've got spare time on a nice day.

Zealandia: Really interesting project on the outskirts of Wellington, where they’ve tried to recreate New Zealand pre-humans. There’s only native plants, no mammals and SO MANY BIRDS. Its a really nice place to walk around and has some pretty energetic tracks. Well worth the $19.50 entry fee.

Te Papa Museum: is outstanding. Probably the best museum I've been to. They have a beautiful exhibit on WW1 which hopefully will still be up post 2018. They also had an exhibit celebrating women's suffrage (which NZ did first), immigration and refugees. It's just great. And it's free.

BATS: My friend Heather took me to see a great show she'd programmed at BATS. BATS is like Soho Theatre in London, it has multiple spaces, multiple show and champions new writing. Well worth a look when you visit.

Other theatres: There's a few other theatres in the city including the Opera House which receives international touring shows (often from the West End!) Also make sure to check what's on in Wellington for music and festivals. There's always something on there.

Cuba Street; A really quirky street with excellent food and bars. Also has a bucket fountain!

Wellington Food and Drink:

Aunty Menas: AMAZING vegetarian curry place on Cuba Street. SO GOOD and SO CHEAP. Very casual, I’d highly recommend it for lunch whilst you’re sight seeing.


Danger Danger: Is a funky little bar in town with very cheap drinks and a fun pub quiz at 6.30pm on Thursdays. Heather has a team that goes most weeks so maybe you guys will meet if you go for the quiz.

Eva Beva: Is another nice bar with a good happy hour and excellent food. A favourite of Wellingtonians (Wellys?).

Wellington to Picton - Interislander Ferry

Here we have the tale of my first missed transfer in six months of travel. I booked the Interislander ferry through my intercity Flexi pass, great deal as it just uses your hours. What is less good is that the confirmation email doesn't tell you to check in and drop off luggage at least an hour before your boat leaves. That info again, larger:

Interislander ferry.jpg

You need to check in at least an hour before your ferry's departure time.

Earlier if you're driving, although then you'll have booked direct and paid $180 or more and you'll be sent reminder texts.

The ferry journey is beautiful. Sailing into the South Island was one of my trip highlights. I would recommend this over flying.

Picton

I'm pretty sure there's nothing in Picton but I didn't stay long enough to confirm.

Accommodation: I stayed at Alicante Backpackers. This pretty hostel used to be an old folks home. It's walking distance from the ferry and a supermarket. It's very clean and the beds are very comfy. You just need to deal with the owners. They will talk to you as if you're 18 and bang on the door of the shower to tell you to hurry up, not because you are taking a long time but because they don't have enough showers. Anyway it's good for a night.

Activities: All I did in Picton was leave, but it's surrounding area, Queen Charlotte Sound, is really pretty. There's hikes and kayaking here if you have an extra day.

Picton to Christchurch

A long six hours on intercity, but you do drive along the coast. You will think you see penguins. You will be wrong. They’re shags. *sniggers* They’ve just re-opened the scenic trainline that does this journey.

Christchurch

Where it rained and rained and then rained some more...

Accommodation: I stayed at Foley Towers and loved it. It was a 20 minute walk from the bus station. The four bed dorm I booked turned out to be a room with three single beds in a lovely self contained house with a kitchen and lounge. If you book here request the house.

Christchurch.jpg

Activities:

Quake city: $20. Really excellent museum dedicated to the two earthquakes that flattened Christchurch. There's an hour and a half film of people telling their stories that plays on a loop, allow extra time to watch that, it's fascinating.

Art Gallery: I did the free tour of the gallery, which goes at 11am and 2pm everyday. This was a great way to see the gallery and understand a bit more about the works.

Canterbury Museum: also free. It's interactive and wonderful and has a great exhibition on exploring the Antarctic.

Food in Christchurch:

Christchurch has loads of amazing bars and restaurants, lots of which are post-earthquake popups. I just went to one of them I’m afraid…

Bacon Bros: Is hard to find as it's in a boutique food market called the Little High Eatery. Great burger though and very enjoyable burnt broccoli (is the most thirty-something thing I've ever said).

Christchurch to Oamaru

Bit of a boring 4 hours on the bus.

Oamaru

Oamaru Grainstore Gallery.jpg

Oamaru is an extremely quirky seaside town with a penchant for anything Victorian.

Workaway: I stayed in Oamaru for five days doing a Workaway at a farm. This was great and I can give you Helen's details if you fancy a stay on a farm.

Oamaru Activities:

Artists Quarter: Quirky as f*ck. Especially the Grainstore Gallery which has SO MANY PICTURES OF EYES. It's free to have look round, definitely check it out if you're in town.

Steampunk museum: $10 entry and a fun way to spend an hour. There's lots of sci-fi steampunk sculptures, most of which you can sit on/ climb on/ play with.

The penguins: There's a colony of little blue penguins at Oamaru. After the sun sets you can see them returning from their day of fishing. You can either pay $20 to be in the colony itself or go to a pier next door for free. You'll only see a few in the free area which is what I did. I reckon it might be worth paying to see a few more.

Oamaru to Dunedin

Quick two hours on intercity.

Dunedin

Also known as the Edinburgh of the South.

Accommodation: I stayed at Kiwi’s Nest which was lovely. A bit of a walk from town, very calm and clean. Very very calm. Attracts a lot of people on conferences. If you stay here book your intercity bus to and from the Dunedin university stop if possible. It'll save you a long walk.

Dunedin Activities:

Dunedin is a great place to go to the cinema or see live music. It's a student town so there's loads on. The central quarter is very pretty and there was a Christmas concert in there when I arrived.

Otago Peninsular: I really felt not having a car down here. If you have a car you can drive to the Peninsular, get on a wildlife cruise or check out the Albatross sanctuary. I ended up booking a harbour cruise/ wildlife cruise for around $150. The harbour was shrouded in mist and the wildlife cruise made me sick... Did see an Albatross though. Didn't feel worth it to me but I guess it depends how much you like albatrosses.

Dunedin to Queenstown

Six hours on intercity but so beautiful I would happily do it again.

Queenstown

Oh Queenstown with your lake, your adventure activities and your 1.8 billion other tourists. You are gorgeous though.

Accommodation: I stayed at Adventure Queenstown, apparently the best hostel in NZ. It was very good. Lovely kitchen, central location, activities every night. Lots of younger travellers, but that's probably true of most places in QT. Books up fast.

Queenstown Activities:

A little note on prices, I did these activities in November. I think the price goes up as NZ gets into their Summer.

Milford Sound: I did the Jucy gem tour to Milford Sound. Normally $160 I got it for $150 on bookme. You can do cheaper day trips that start earlier. I reckon this one was worth the extra $30. It picked us up at 9am, provided lunch and a glass top coach and a 'premium cruise' which isn't really necessary as you spend most of your time outside. It's a four hour bus to Milford, two hour cruise and four hour trip back. But with walking and photo stops on the way there and a showing of 'Hunt for the Wilderpeople' on the way back, the bus was pretty fun.

White water rafting: I booked the shot over river rafting (grades 3-5) for my first ever rafting experience and it was EPIC! So fun. The company is called Go orange. I paid $159, maybe you can get it cheaper on bookme or if you book a few things at once with a travel agent.

Track to Frankton: Flat, pretty track that takes you to Frankton in an hour, where there's a nice cafe on the water (the boatshed) Then you walk back. A gentle, pretty activity.

Other activities: If you want to jump off something or out of something QT has got you covered. There's also loads of other hikes.

Queenstown Food and Drinks:

Ice bar: Had a voucher so only $13 for entry and a cocktail. If I'd paid more I'd have been annoyed.

Ferg burger: Apparently the best burger in the world? I've stopped eating beef so had falafel, which was average. It tends to have long queues but they go down fast. After ordering you could nip to the bottle shop, buy a beer and have your beer and burger sitting by the lake...

Queenstown to Franz Josef

An 8 hour bus journey! Was stunning though and had walking and photo stops so was actually fine.

Franz Josef

One of my favourite places. I spent two full days here and had a lovely time.

Accommodation: I stayed at Glow Worm hostel. The rooms are average but I'd still highly recommend staying here. They give away free soup at 6pm every night which gets everyone chatting. Also free breakfast, free popcorn, nice staff. A real mix of people stay there including families.

Franz Josef Activities:

Glow worms! After dark you can do the short Terrace Walk from town and see glow worms for free.

Robert Point track.jpg

Robert Point track: Probably my favourite hike in NZ. There's lots of semi-climbing in this 5 hour return trip to a glacier viewpoint. You can do it alone because there's loads of other people about. You absolutely cannot do it in the rain, it's slippy and kind of dangerous when it's dry. The view of the glacier is great, clouds allowing.

Valley Walk: Super easy hour and a half walk to a low glacier viewpoint. Lots of lovely waterfalls.

Alex Knobb and other tracks: I didn't do the 8 return hour hike up a nearby mountain to see the glacier from above. If the clouds are low you can't see anything from the top. There are a few other short hikes around the town and the glacier too.

Helihikes: Pricey. As I don't technically have any travel money left I didn't do one of these. They look incredible though, you go to the top of the glacier and get to go inside it too. They are weather dependent though, lots of people had theirs cancelled or rescheduled.

Wildlife centre: $25 tickets if you stay at Glow Worm (and other places too probably). You're mostly paying to see kiwis in a nocturnal area. Worth it! THEY'RE SO FLUFFY!

Franz Josef to Westport

Very pretty six hour journey to the most boring place in New Zealand...

Westport

At first glance Westport is a ghost town, but when you spend some time there and really get to know the place what you'll discover is that truly, deeply and at its core, Westport is a ghost town.

TBF I only spent about 24 hours there. That was plenty.

Accommodation: Bazil's surf hostel. I arrived to sign that said 'I'm out surfing. You should be too.' This is an unhelpful sign. I have tried my hand at surfing and know it would be tricky to surf wearing a giant backpack and with your kitchen supplies hanging off your shoulder.

Things got better though. The staff, when they turned up, were very nice and the hostel was pretty dead so I got a room to myself.

The Kiwi bus stops here so the few people who were staying there were a tight knit group. For me, Bazil's wasn't great for meeting folk.

Westport Activities:

Surfing: I did not go surfing but you can? The hostel offered lessons for $50 or you got one free if you stayed for five days. Do not stay in Westport for five days.

The Millennium track: Cross the deserted high street and step over some rusted metal that used to be train tracks and you will find the Millennium track. It's a nice track along the river and through some Bush. Got a bit dull after a while but was a good post bus leg stretch.

Kawatiri River Trail: It's probably lovely. It's another track you can do from town that takes you to north beach. But by the time I'd walked through silent Westport and past the smelly fish factory it had started to rain so I did a short version. If the sun is shining doing this track and having a picnic on the beach would be fun.

Westport to Nelson

A four hour bus journey that felt like three, with a stop at the Pancake Rocks. If you can bear it maybe do Franz Josef to Westport in one go and save yourself a day. If you're driving that's totally doable.

Nelson

At first glance Nelson is a ghost town... but before I could convince myself the town's at the top of the West coast were, in fact, an elaborate hoax, I passed some pubs and restaurants with people in them and it turns out Nelson is pretty lovely, especially when the sun comes out.

Accommodation: I stayed at the beautiful INNbetween Lodge and Backpackers. Really lovely design and very comfy beds. Also an excellent free breakfast is available for those up early enough to get some. I'd definitely recommend this hostel. Eat in the kitchen if you want to make friends here.

Nelson Activities:

Abel Tasman.jpg

ABEL TASMAN! There are so many options for exploring the stunning turquoise coast line of the Abel Tasman national park. You can walk or kayak for a day or three, camp or stay in a hut (you need to book ahead for this) and get water taxis to start or complete.

I booked The Seals and Sand tour with Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi. Their bus to and from Nelson cost a reasonable $30 and the 'tour' cost $79, a combined price of $109. This is cheaper than the kayak day tours, but more expensive than just getting dropped by the boat and walking back. The water taxi takes you for a little look at some seals before dropping you at Torrent Bay. I then did the four hour hike to Onetahuti, stopping for lunch at Bark Bay. There's quite a long uphill stretch after Bark Bay. At one point I did tell the hill to f*ck off, but it didn't. I chilled on the beautiful beach until my water taxi back, we saw some dolphins on the way back! That was great!

An Abel Tasman recommendation from the driver, which I will definitely do when I come back, is as follows:

Get the boat to Totaranui walk to Onehatuti and camp there or stay in a hut. The next day kayak to Anchorage (missing the hilliest section), arrange with the kayak company to transfer your bags to the camp site, the following day walk to the end of the track. Most companies offer bag transfers, Abel Tasman Aqua Taxis certainly do if you've booked a boat ride with them. Arguably you could transfer your bags (and maybe a cooler of food and beers) to each site and just carry days packs.

Nelson Food and Drink:

Indian Cafe: Colourful restaurant and great curry! Highly recommend this place for a meal out or a takeaway.

#PSA curries in NZ tend to come with rice. I made the mistake of ordering extra in Christchurch.

Craft beer: I also had some excellent beer here. FYI Nelson is the self proclaimed capital of craft beer! They have a trail you can do.

Nelson to Wellington

A trip you can do on public transport in a day. The coach from Nelson to Picton takes 2 hours and then the ferry takes three and a half. They have a free shuttle from Wellington’s port to the city.

I really like Wellington, as the boat approached there was an actual rainbow over the city, which felt appropriate. All my Wellington tips are in the Wellington section above.


Wellington to National Park - Northern Explorer train

I got the Northern Explorer Scenic train up to National Park. It took five hours, cost $79 and was very pleasant. The train was only half full so you're probably okay to book it when you get to NZ. It’s more expensive to book tickets from abroad! Get a friend in NZ to book for you or try and do the VPN thing. Also it doesn't go every day so factor that in.

National Park

My first impression of the National Park Village was 'a bit bleak'. There is a train station, perhaps four streets and a tiny supermarket attached to a petrol station. But people come to National Park for one reason and one reason only, the Tongeriro Crossing and for that reason a stay there is 100% worth it.

Accommodation: I stayed at the Howard Mountain lodge in a three bed dorm. My bed was terrible but everything else was nice. If you get the bed with broken springs ask to move, otherwise it's as good a place as any to stay.


The Tongeriro Crossing

Mount Doom Tongariro Crossing.jpg

Popularly known as the most scenic day hike in New Zealand and for good reason. The walk is stunning. You pass Mount Doom, then you climb a mountain and then walk between peaks over-looking gorgeous blue lakes. It is not easy. The uphill goes on for quite a while and there are so many people that if you pause to take a breather you can end up waiting for a break in the traffic to get going again. It is not easy, but it is definitely worth it.

Our hostel booked the shuttle for us which gave a pick up time based on the weather forecast and they were spot on - they dropped us off at 6am and expected most people to make the 2pm bus back and at 2.10pm it started raining.

You need decent shoes to do the crossing and they won’t let you do it in jeans. I would advice hiring hiking poles as they'll make a big difference.


National Park Food and Drink

You can buy two minute noodles from the hostel and over priced basics from the petrol station...

The Schnapps Bar:

Me: So where's the schnapps?

Barman: All the 'lodge name's were taken. So we just picked that.

Nice pub with good food (around $18 a main) and average priced beer.

National Park to Auckland

You can get a 6 hour intercity bus, but I ended up getting a lift with some lovely girls I met at the aforementioned Schnapps Bar. We stopped at Hamilton’s Lake to stretch our legs on the way.


I’ve put all my Auckland tips in the Auckland section so here ends my epic saga of a five week adventure in New Zealand!

Congratulations if you made it to the end!

Have a magnificent honeymoon Liz! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Loads of love,

Helen x

Admin

If you think my writing is interesting why don’t you check out my first book ‘Afterlife’? It’s like a really long blog with chapters and a thrilling storyline…

Also have you tried booking.com? I use them pretty much exclusively now as my ‘genius’ discount makes them cheaper than everyone else. Here is a link that gets you £15 off the first time you use them* Try booking.com.

Hey, and if you look to your right (and up, up, up) you can sign up to my mailing list…

*This is a genuine recommendation, but an affiliate link (I’ll make a little money)

Lost Girl's Singapore tips (or 'Dear Donna')

Dear Donna,

Hi Mum! I'm writing this one to you because I think you'd really enjoy Singapore. It's very orderly and futuristic, it's got a bit of a Canary Wharf vibe. Also putting this on my blog so there will be a advice for backpackers included.

Gardens by the Bay.jpg

Travel

It was such a relief to get to Singapore after months of tuk tuks, taxis and scooters. It has an MRT (train). It's well worth getting the tourist pass, for however long you're going to be there, at the train station under the airport. Then get the lovely cheap, clean, public transport to your accommodation. Also Singapore has pavements that are for walking on as opposed to driving/parking your scooter on.

Money

Is the Singaporean dollar. If you're coming from the UK Singapore will feel like it's quite good value. If you're coming from Asia you're in for a shock (the bad kind). Everything costs more and alcohol is heavily taxed. A beer costs upwards of $10 (usd).

Language

I did not know that English was the main language in Singapore so that was a nice surprise. The Singaporeans also speak Singlish which is English with several other languages chucked in.

Dresscode

For the first time my foolproof travel combo of hiking boots, hiking sandals and flip flops let me down. The nicer bars in Singapore want you to wear actual shoes.

Accommodation

I stayed at Atlantis Pods (that’s a link to their site, but when I tried to book directly I got told the best deals are on the booking sites).

It's a hostel but instead of a bed you have a pod. In this case a pod is a bed with a blind that is neither soundproof nor lightproof (ie. pointless.) I don't recommend the place for you mother or any solo travellers. I might have just been unlucky but it had a terrible atmosphere. Lots of people were staying there for work and had no interest in chatting. It was in the Bugis area though which is a great place to stay. Wherever you stay, try and pick somewhere close to the MRT.

Haw Par Villa.jpg

Activities

Haw Par Villa: Oh boy, Haw Par Villa. It is described as Singapore's nightmare theme park which is accurate. It has dioramas depicting Chinese legends, designed to teach school children morality. It also has the ten courts of hell to show them what will happen if they ignore those teachings. In the ten courts of hell you can see little people being impaled on trees made of knives and crushed by rocks and booked alive and similar. Horrific. I had a great time. It's free and easy to get to as it has it's own MRT stop. Oh I almost forgot they also have a little Museum of Death there which is as morbid as it sounds. It looks at how death is treated in the different religions. Was great research for book 3 in my Afterlife Trilogy (shameless plug).

Southern Ridges walk: This is fabulous. It's a walk that starts near Haw Par Villa and goes through the city for miles without ever leaving parks. I started about halfway up for the Tree top walk. I highly recommend this and starting at this end to avoid climbing loads of stairs at the start (near Harbour MRT). As well as the Tree top walk you go across a beautiful bridge and up to Singapore's highest point. Take water and snacks.

Singapore Zoo: Was recommended to me as it has big trenches between you and the animal instead of fences. It has displays on climate change and conservation as well as lots of happy looking animals. I had a really lovely day here.

Cloud Forest.jpg

Gardens by the Bay: The Supertrees! They are amazing. At 7.45pm and 8.45pm every night they do a light display to music which was brilliant. You can eat at a restaurant at the top of a tree or you can buy some chips and watch from the bottom (guess which I did). It was a life highlight. There's lots to see in the rest of the gardens too. Allow a couple of hours for wandering and get to the trees slightly early for the light show to find somewhere to sit.

Cloud Forest: The Cloud Forest is one of two paid gardens within the Gardens by the Bay. Its great, a lot like the Eden project. They have created their own mountain eco system and planted the trees and flowers you'd normally find at each level. They also make their own cloud at various points during the day. There's a great display on climate change here including a film on what will happen to the world as the temperature increases degree by degree ( basically we're all screwed #spoilers). Best get to Singapore before the environmental apocalypse.

Free concert Singapore Botanical Gardens.jpg

Singapore Botanical Gardens: Is both beautiful and free and has monthly free classical concerts. These are great, they get crowded so big groups should go early. You can take a picnic including your own champers.

Food and drink

Hood Bar.jpg

Hawker Centres: These are basically food courts and they are the place to go for cheap Singaporean eats. Most malls will have one nearby and there are a lot of malls. Try Hainese Chicken which is a very simple chicken and rice dish.

Hood Bar: I went for a drink here on my own to listen to a band and had a lovely time. Mostly because a local girl decided to be my friend and made the bar staff (her friends) give me free drinks, thanks again Eliza!

Prince of Wales: The boringness of my hostel got to me and I headed to this bar in search of friends. I pretty much immediately got chatting to some travellers at the bar and then someone I knew from Vietnam walked in! If you're a solo traveller and looking for company this is absolutely the place to go. The food is pretty good too.

Skybars: Going to a rooftop bar to see the sunset is an essential Singaporean experience. I went to Loof Bar it was not a particularly high roof and did not have a view of the sun, but it had a decent happy hour and I didn't have any nice shoes so I steered clear of the swankier places.

That's about it!

I didn't stay in Singapore very long and you probably won't need more than a few days. Maybe do it on your way somewhere else? Like Angkor Wat in Cambodia or Sri Lanka?

Hope that's helpful.

Love you Mum, see you soon.

Helen xxx

Admin

If you think my writing is interesting why don’t you check out my first book ‘Afterlife’? It’s like a really long blog with chapters and a thrilling storyline…

Also have you tried booking.com? I use them pretty much exclusively now as my ‘genius’ discount makes them cheaper than everyone else. Here is a link that gets you £15 off the first time you use them* Try booking.com.

*This is a genuine recommendation, but an affiliate link (I’ll make a little money)

Lost Girl's Bali tips (or 'Dear Travel Fatigue')

Dear Travel fatigue,

You're a f*cker aren't you?

Someone can be in the most beautiful place in the planet and unwilling to get out of bed because of you.

Mango the kitten at Waterborn.jpg

You; the long drain on the traveller caused by poor sleep, lack of routine, planes, trains and automobiles, annoying lads, a questionable diet and a myriad of other things. Anyway I just wanted to tell you how I defeated you with the power of Bali.

Also this is going on my blog so there will be lots of helpful information too. A note for readers I only visited Bingin Beach, Ubud and Canguu, I've got a lot to say, but if you need info on Bali's other attractions try the Bali Bible (after reading this of course).

Money

The currency in Bali is the Indonesian rupiah. It is roughly 20,000 rupiah to £1 (GBP) and 15,000 to the US dollar at present. Do not become attached to your rupiah, you will not have it for long. Bali is expensive compared to the rest of Asia.

ATMs

ATMs can be a little dodgy or have low limits per withdrawal. If you're heading somewhere a bit more remote definitely take some money out at the airport.

SIMs

Likewise the airport is probably the best place to get a SIM.

There's all sorts of scams if you get them from the street. One lady tried to sell me a 2GB SIM for 500k (extortionate). I ended up getting a 7GB SIM for 300k (fair) BUT after about 2GB that SIM stopped working because, apparently, that 7GB is split between 3G, 4G and YouTube (why?). Get the phone guys at the airport to explain what you're getting so you don't get an unpleasant surprise.

Transport from the airport

I booked a transfer through my hostel. This is probably your best bet, at the very least find out the normal rate for your journey from your hostel. The taxis will probably try and rip you off and Grab won't work. On that-

The Taxi mafia

The local taxis in Bali have banded together to stop Grab (Asian Uber) from working and have been pretty successful. It does not work at all in Bingin (Uluwatu) or Ubud, but you can get some Grabs in Canguu. Bluebird taxis are metered and generally pretty good. There are also fake bluebird taxis. Watch out for these and negotiate a price up front. The motorbike taxis are pretty reasonable as long as you know how much you should be paying, a short trip in your local area shouldn’t cost more than 30k.

Scooters

I got on a scooter briefly in Bali. It did not go well. No one got hurt but I swore off them after that and I am really glad I did. Scootering in Bali is dangerous. Someone dies almost everyday, I saw someone come off their bike in Canguu and it was terrifying. If you've been on a scooter before go for it, carefully, and with a helmet. People, especially the tourists, drive like idiots.

Tips

Tips are included with tax and added on to bills at bars and restaurants.

Bingin Beach

Lovely Bingin. There's a lot of expats in Bingin, lots of them are very friendly. It's got a very chilled vibe. Go to relax.

View from Stiky 2.jpg

Accommodation: I stayed at Warung Stiky 2 after reading about it in a blog. It is a beautiful hotel and cafe set in the cliff above Bingin beach. The rooms are upstairs overlooking the sea with a seating area and hammocks outside. The private rooms were 250k a night and the mezzanine room, an open attic with a mattress and bug net, was 150k. I stayed in the mezzanine and it was great.

You have to walk down some steep stairs to get there, and some steep stairs to get back up, and if you're going to the beach there's some steep stairs involved. Basically wherever you go there will be stairs. This is legs and bums toning heaven.

I would classify Stiky 2 as advanced traveller accommodation (welcome to South East Asia level 2). They don't have WIFI, they are nowhere near an ATM and if you ask a question like 'Where can I get a SIM' you're going to get shrugs. If you want to go beyond Bingin, or to the ATM, you'll need a scooter or a taxi or really good walking shoes. Stiky 2 is not on booking sites, but you can message them on Facebook to book a room. It’s worth the hassle.

Things to do: I'm not going to lie, I 100% crashed out in Bingin and achieved very little, but I think that's part of the magic.

There are yoga classes at the Temple Lodge, Cashew Tree and Morning Light, none of which I went to.

There's the Pura Luhur Temple in Uluwatu, missed that.

And you can rent boards (50k) or get surf lessons (300k) on the beach, neither of which I did.

I did go for a walk along the beach at low tide which was stunning. Bingin beach can get quite busy but a few metres down the sand and you can find your own private cove- although something really creepy did happen whilst I was sitting doing some writing:

***Creepy story***

I was on my own in a little cove and a local guy walks by. Some other tourists pass, I do some more writing and the same guy comes back. Then a few minutes later he walks past and back again, slowly.

The tide starts to come in and I decide to head back. An English couple arrive and I take a picture for them. I then head back along the beach alone. I pass the same guy, now completely naked, heading back to where I had been sitting.

I look down a keep walking, but not before I see him clock me and hesitate.

I pass his clothes on the top of a rock and consider throwing them in the sea. I do not.

Batu beach.jpg

It was very creepy.

Dear men, speaking for all women who have been flashed, it's not a powerful look, don't do it. Both you and your penis look ridiculous.

***Creepy story ends***

Eurgh. You should be able to go on a walk on your own without that happening. Maybe if you're going to chill out off the beaten track take a buddy.

Anyway.

The beach; great for lounging. The rocks are covered in moss which put me off going in the water a little. The waves get crowded with surfers. It’s fun to watch them falling off.

Surf competitions: I was lucky to see a competition at Bingin while I was there, but I think they're a pretty regular occurrence in Uluwatu so be sure to have a Google.

Ecstatic dance: About ten minutes after I arrived my friend, and Bali guru, Claire took me to an Ecstatic dance session at Sannyas. This was intense. The teacher plays different music for each of the four elements and you just dance any way you like. It can release something primal in you. Give it a go. Rosanne does classes every Tuesday.

Sunset: You can watch the sunset from pretty much anywhere in Bingin but the cliffs round to the right (if you're facing the sea) are an especially lovely place.

Food: I ate at Kelly's Warung more than I should of. Didi's next door does amazing salads and young coconuts. And there is a fresh fish grill every evening on the beach. Away from the beach the Cashew Tree is 'the place to be with live music and great health food. The Italian restaurant, Casa Asia, was also great. It is best to book ahead for both of these places.

Ubud

Accommodation: I stayed at Sayong House in a dorm room. It was cheap, had a pool, was in a great location and clean enough. But breakfast was pathetic and there was no communal area so I only met one other traveller there. The wifi was rubbish too, but I think that's an Ubud wide issue.

Things to do:

Yoga: Oh yoga. I got a three session pass for Yoga Barn for 330k. They have gentle yoga and beginners yoga, great if you're trying it for the first time. I went to another class which was packed and the teacher started getting a little stressed because people didn't know what they were doing. The best class I have done EVER was also there, it's was Myofascular release and Yin yoga where the teacher showed us how to give ourselves a massage with tennis balls before going into the yin poses. (Yin is also good for beginners as it's super slow).

Monkey Forest: You will hear people telling you not to take anything into the monkey forest. Listen to them. Do not take anything with you to the Monkey Forest.

Wait that needs to be bigger-

Ubud Monkey Forest.jpg

Do not take anything with you to the Monkey Forest

I took my bag because I went on a whim and one of those little c*nts jumped on me, opened the top of my bag and stole my headphones and my antihistamines (why?) I was lucky they didn't find the zip to the main bit of my bag. I lived in London for ten years and that is the first time I've been mugged. Monkeys are the actual worst.

The Monkey Forest has some cool temples and sculptures though. That and monkeys, hundreds and hundreds of monkeys. Picture the monkey scene in the second Hunger Games, it's basically like that.

Campuhan Ridge Walk.jpg

Campuhan Ridge walk: This is a lovely and short walk out of Ubud to the rice paddies. I did it in the early morning which was fun, but next time I would try and time it to reach the restaurants by the paddies for sunset. Probably starting the walk at 4.30pm.

The Laughing Buddha: is a bar which has live music every evening. You need to buy drinks (Sangria is 80k) or food to watch or they'll charge you 100k. I went and saw a blues band on a Monday and they were outstanding.

Food:

Oh boy. The food in Ubud is exceptional. You have food of the highest standard at almost Asian prices.

duck egg waffle at Locavore.jpg

Locavore to go: YUM this is the cafe attached to Michelin starred Locavore. You can get lunch and breakfast here for an average Bali price (around 100k per meal). I had duck eggs and crispy bacon on waffle and it was the best thing that has ever happened to me.

Room 4 dessert: Chef Goldfarb set up this restaurant after reaching the top of his game in New York and burning out. It is a dining experience. If you book ahead you can get a tasting menu at one of their tables inside. We just had a la carte desserts in their beautiful garden. The ambience is great, it was really friendly staff and a fab playlist. They match cocktails with the desserts or they have prosecco that's so lovely it made me a little bit emotional. There’s an episode on ‘Chef’s Table’ on Netflix about the Chef.

Bollero: Gets a special mention because I ate here almost everyday, it was right next to our hotel. It was inexpensive and friendly, the spaghetti carbonara was especially good.

Canguu

This is the place travel fatigue. The place where I took my sword of energy and my shield of napping and I defeated you once and for all!

Canguu is bigger than Bingin and everything is in walking distance.

Accommodation: I stayed at wonderful wonderful Waterborn. The only dorm had five single beds and one of the nicest bathrooms I've ever seen. There were some private rooms, a beautiful pool and communal area and kittens! It also attracted a slightly older crowd. I ended up having dinner with four ladies all over the age of thirty! It was great! Cost for a dorm bed was 300k per night, but you can get a discount if you’re a genius on booking.com. If you're going to Canguu book Waterborn and book it right now. Stop reading and book Waterborn. It fills up fast.

Things to do:

Yoga: I did classes at Serenity Eco lodge (110k) and the Practise (140k). The Practise is a better venue but Serenity has more classes. Teachers at both were excellent. There's also Samadi studio which I didnt get to, bit is supposed to be even prettier.

Surfing: There's surf classes here, morning is probably best before it gets crowded. My friend hired a guy for private lessons and said it worked out cheaper than a surfcamp. I can get the number for you if you like. DM me on Facebook.

Beach: The beach has black volcanic sand and more stones covered in moss. There are so many surf shacks and bars where you can sit and chill or watch the sunset. There's also live music at sunset at Sand Bar .

Canguu party list.jpg

Party: Here's a list passed to me from another traveller of the places to party on any given day. I visited Old Man's on the beach which is huge and very clubby, Deus which had a superb live band and Luigis which had brilliant pizza and a table tennis table.

Be careful when you're out and about late at night. Lots of people drive drunk. I even heard a guy trying to convince a girl it was fine to keep driving when she wanted to walk. He was British. British lads on tour are the absolute worst. If I could wave a magic wand and give them all an STI I would save my energy because they probably already have one.

(You may notice whilst my energy is back, my patience with lads is not. Now I just have the energy to get more annoyed.)

Food:

Moana Restaurant: Unfortunately this has nothing to do with the Disney Princess. It’s still good though. Incredible fish dishes, average prices and popular with locals as well as tourists. Booking is recommended but we chanced it and were fine.

Betelnut cafe: Was my favourite. They have the perfect menu. You can get super massive salads or Mexican or even a delicious burger.

Warung Bu Mi: Very cheap and tasty Indonesian food. You can get a huge plate of food for 30k.

Overall: I mostly napped, ate and did yoga in Bali, but it I also started writing my next book which I'm really excited about. A girl I met at Ecstatic Dance told me that Bali is a spiritual power centre and that it will always give you what you need. In my case she was 100% right.

Have fun in Bali and f*ck you travel fatigue!

Helen xxx

Admin

If you think my writing is interesting why don’t you check out my first book ‘Afterlife’? It’s like a really long blog with chapters and a thrilling storyline…

Also have you tried booking.com? I use them pretty much exclusively now as my ‘genius’ discount makes them cheaper than everyone else. Here is a link that gets you £15 off the first time you use them* Try booking.com.

*This is a genuine recommendation, but an affiliate link (I’ll make a little money)

Lost Girl's Laos tips (or 'Dear Melissa and Patrick')

Dear Melissa and Patrick,

I’m currently sitting next to you on the Mona Rooftop bar overlooking a rainy Cat Ba Bay in Northern Vietnam. The cocktails are half price, it’s pretty chill.

So, here is everything I remember from Laos. It’s been over a month ago and two full countries since I left Vientiane but I can still remember the excellent and the awful…

I’ve split my experiences into sections with some general stuff first, I’m also putting this on my blog.

Money

Laos is the first place I was a millionaire. You get 10,000 Laos kip to $1.17 (the dollar is freakishly strong right now) or 91p (GBP). I didn’t have trouble finding or using any ATMs but I stayed on the main tourist trail as you will see… Also try not to take Laos kip out of the country, no one will change it for you.

Crossing the border from Thailand

We stayed a night in Chiang Rai and took the local bus to the border. It could not have been easier, buses run from Chiang Rai bus station every half an hour. We crossed on a weekend and the border was deserted. Take the usual for a visa on arrival (double check this is still available before you travel) – passport photo and the current fee (35USD for UK and USA at time of writing).

After checking out of Thailand you take a shuttle bus to Laos (check when this bus is leaving before going to the loo or similar as there aren’t that many on a weekend). You then check in to Laos and get your visa, easy, there’s ATMs and money exchanges if you need them. The most boring part of the journey for us was waiting for the shuttle bus into to town to have enough people in it to leave.

All I can really remember is that this was a super simple border crossing. There’s a very thorough blog, with pictures, by TietoThailand if you need more info.

Huay Xai

Sunset in Huay Xai.jpg

Loads of People slag off Huay Xai, the phrase ‘dusty border town’ has been used, but we had a great time here,

Accommodation: We stayed at the Gateway Hostel for the night before and after the Gibbon Experience. First we stayed in the dorm, then a twin as it was the same price (£10/$13pn). You can also have a go at haggling here. The private was nice enough. Not spectacular but cheap and in a very good location.

(Gateway hostel was also rat-free. I’m adding this after we watched a rat leap from a high cupboard to the floor in our current hotel. A new low bar for hotels has just been created.)

Food and Activities: We ate at Sensabay Restaurant a few times, it was pleasant, there’s a very friendly baby wandering around. We also ate ate Daauw Home, an excellent social enterprise, with an excellent balcony. Daauw Home is on the way up the hill to Wat Chomkao Manilat which is a beautiful temple. It is free to wander around and has a fantastic view of the sunset. We also helped the trainee monks practise their English here. Prepare answers for - ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Do you like football’ and ‘How is the weather?’

I had an excellent massage in Huay Xai at a shop with no name on the opposite side of the road to hotel. I think it might be the only place in Huay Xai. They just had a few mattresses on the floor but it was probably the best massage I’ve had in Asia.

The Gibbon Experience

Oh boy. The Gibbon Experience. It’s up there with Climbodia in Kampot, Cambodia and the Asia Outdoors Kayak/Climb day on Cat Ba Island, Vietnam as one of my favourite South East Asia experiences. It’s not cheap. I did the two day express option which had 21 ziplines, an overnight stay in one of the world’s tallest tree houses and jungle trekking and it cost £144/$185. Note that if you choose the two day option you don’t go deep enough into the jungle to see any gibbons.

Treehouse at the Gibbon Experience.jpg

The website says you need to be in ‘good physical shape’ to do the two day tour. What this means is if you are in ‘average physical shape’, or, if you were in ‘good physical shape but you sort of let yourself go whilst travelling’, the initial trek will almost kill you. It’s hot, it’s uphill and they go fast. I don’t want to put you off. Patrick and Melissa you’ll be fine. Everyone fitter than me, you’ll be fine. Everyone else… start training now or check out the other options where you don’t hike uphill for what feels like an eternity.

The ziplines are incredible, the jungle is beautiful, the tree houses are awesome and the Gibbon Experience is super ethical, your money is going into the national park and the local community. Do take a book for downtime in the tree house. The guides (who are great) give you some rice whiskey but you could BYOB if you can handle carrying it. Highly recommended. Check the weather before you book it.

The Slow Boat to Luang Prabang

Slow Boat to Luang Prabang.jpg

You have the option, when travelling to Luang Prabang from the north, to take the two day trip down the Mekong River. You can book this in Huay Xai, ask for a seat near the front (away from the noisy engine) and they’ll try their best. Also check what time the boat will actually leave, we sat on it for an unnecessary hour, thinking we were waiting for it to fill up, but it had always been scheduled to leave at 11.30am.

The slow boat is slow and scenic (and a boat) take a book and podcasts and have motion sickness pills on standby. And take lunch and snacks.

The biggest piece of advice I have is book your overnight accommodation in Pak Beng.

Wait, that needs to be bigger-

BOOK YOUR OVERNIGHT ACCOMMODATION IN PAK BENG

Pak Beng is the overnight stop the slow boat makes and it is terrible. It is an airport departure lounge of a town. You can’t leave and the hotel owners know it. They crowd on the dock as you arrive to offer ridiculously cheap rooms. We took a cheap room, it was mouldy. Someone else took a cheap room and the hotel owner PULLED A KNIFE ON THEM when they said they didn’t want to have breakfast there. It’s not worth the hassle. Do some research and book yourself a decent room with good (genuine) reviews.

Weirdly the food in Pak Beng is really nice. We went to Hive Bar and got Indian food delivered, it was delicious. Our hotel made us a packed lunch – fried, rice, cashews and pineapple – and I can reveal that this is a meal that travels well.

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is my favourite place in Laos.

Accommodation: We stayed at the Sunrise Riverside Hostel, it was nice enough, good breakfast, $6pn and a sociable common area, but no private rooms I’m afraid. It was near Utopia bar which is just awesome, I visited the deck overlooking the Mekong in the evening, but apparently during the day there’s yoga and lots of digital nomad/creative types getting on with their projects there. Try and stay near here.

Activities: We went and saw the monks collecting food at dawn here – you’ll probably see this in Cambodia. We also visited Icon Klub. You’ll love this place Melissa, its like a little Parisian cafe, its run by an artist and has a box of uplifting quotes from inspirational people.

UXO Luang Prabang.jpg

Kuang Si Waterfalls was big and brown when I went, but it’s normally turquoise. It’s fun to walk around, you can swim if it hasn’t been raining and it has a bear sanctuary within the park.

The UXO (Unexploded Ordinances) is the place to go to learn more about the Secret War and how its debris is still crippling Laos. Warning, America is 100% the bad guy here, but you’re probably used to that after Vietnam... It’s a short but powerful trip, it does also make a point of showing how much money the USA now gives t o help Laos clear the bombs.

My other recommendation for Luang Prabang is the Garavex Storytelling theatre which is 50,000kip a ticket. It’s an hour of Laos folktales (in English) with traditional music. It’s a small theatre so it’s worth trying to pick up tickets before the show. Their site says tickets from 6pm but we swung by at 5pm and there was someone there selling them.

Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng

We took a minibus organised by the hostel. It’s not that far and I don’t really remember the journey so it’s not one to worry about.

Vang Vieng

Oh Vang Vieng. To say I loathed Vang Vieng is probably too strong, I think I just hated it.

Accommodation: We stayed two nights at Jenin Backpackers in a private room that cost £8/$10 per night. It was dull. There was no atmosphere but it was clean and the staff were nice enough. Nana Backpackers might get recommended to you, this is a party hostel and I think their pool gave everyone pink eye.

Activities: The main road is full of bars giving away free alcohol. The main activity there is river tubing from bar to bar down the Mekong, which is apparently awesome. I didn’t go because first Vang Vieng made my friend really sick, then it made me really sick, so I didn’t really do anything fun at all. I’m sure you’ll have a better time.

Vang Vieng to Vientiane

See Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng. I do remember that this minibus was especially nice. I don’t remember how much it cost. Probably around $7… #yourwelcome.

Vientiane

I’d heard a lot of bad things about Vientiane but we stayed for a day and really enjoyed it.

Accommodation: We treated ourselves to the New Usouk Boutique Hotel which was the relatively expensive price of £15/$19pn. It was lovely, great location, nice rooms, highly recommended.

Buddah Park.jpg

Activities: The best activity in Vientiane was not in Vientiane, it’s the Buddah Park. You can get the local bus (14) there for 6,000kip each way. For me it was a great mix of beautiful and amusing. I really enjoyed the one reclining Buddah which looks like its face is melting (it’s an art exhibition so I think I’m allowed to say that).

I also really enjoyed Earth Bar which had a good vibe, board games and reggae music.

Vientiane airport

A quick one on Vientiane airport if you’re passing through. Don’t expect to find ANYTHING beyond security because all there is is Pringles. Eat before you go through. Also don’t be too early, I think my check in/bag drop only opened two hours before my flight.

Have an excellent time guys! Hopefully see you in the Philippines! x

Admin

If you think my writing is interesting why don’t you check out my first book ‘Afterlife’? It’s like a really long blog with chapters and a thrilling storyline…

Also have you tried booking.com? I use them pretty much exclusively now as my ‘genius’ discount makes them cheaper than everyone else. Here is a link that gets you £15 off the first time you use them* Try booking.com.

*This is a genuine recommendation, but an affiliate link (I’ll make a little money)